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The Welsh "Gorsedd of the Bards"

The Gorsedd of Bards of the Isle of Britain has a long and interesting history dating back to the end of the eighteenth century.

Iolo Morganwg, an academic, originally from Llancarfan in Glamorgan, created the Gorsedd, and this happened on Primrose Hill, London in 1792. Iolo Morganwg believed that the fact that the culture and heritage of the Celts belonged to the Welsh was a fact which needed emphasising, and he believed that the creation of the Gorsedd was the perfect vehicle to reflect this.
Most members of the Gorsedd are poets, writers, musicians and artists, who either join when they win one of the Eisteddfod’s main competitions, sit an exam or when they are awarded a degree in Welsh or Music from a Welsh university.
The Gorsedd also honours some people who have worked tirelessly for the National Eisteddfod through the years – often behind the scenes, and these individuals receive the same honour as our famous faces.
New members are honoured in ceremonies held at the Gorsedd Stones on the Eisteddfod Maes on the Monday and Friday mornings of the festival week. These ceremonies are led by the Archdruid, who also leads the main ceremonies held on the Pavilion stage during the week. The Archdruid is elected for three years, and he is the Head of the Gorsedd of the Bards.

In 2009, a commemorative plaque was unveiled on Primrose Hill to celebrate Iolo Morganwg’s contribution and the creation of the Gorsedd of the Bards of the Isle of Britain.
The first link between the Gorsedd and the Eisteddfod was in 1819 at the Carmarthen Eisteddfod, and since the creation of the National Eisteddfod in its current form in 1861, a strong and close relationship has developed, with the Gorsedd playing an important role in the Eisteddfod every year.
Proposed changes to the Gorsedd of the Bards
At its recent meeting in the Blaenau Gwent and the Heads of the Valleys National Eisteddfod, the Gorsedd of the Bards discussed a radical scheme, creating the most major changes to the Gorsedd since the time of Iolo Morganwg himself.

Due to the nature and size of the proposed changes, it was decided that this matter will be discussed again in August 2011, giving the Gorseddigion ample opportunity to discuss and voice their opinions in the meantime. But what exactly is the scheme, and how is it so radical that it needs a year-long discussion before the final decision is announced?

The aim of the scheme is to ensure that everyone who becomes a member of the Gorsedd from 2012 onwards do so at the same level, thus abolishing the ‘Ovate’ and ‘Druid’ classing system. Under this scheme, the Gorseddigion would continue to wear different coloured robes, with the colours representing their specialism or talent in a specific area.

The Gorsedd is also discussing the possibility of creating a new colour, for those received to the Gorsedd on the basis of their contribution to society or the sporting world. The final decision regarding these colours has not yet been made.

Only those who have won the National and Urdd Eisteddfod’s main competitions will be awarded the White Robes in future, and the White Robes will continue to represent the special relationship between the Gorsedd and the Eisteddfod itself.

The Gorsedd is eager to ensure that new members are all accepted on the same level, and that all specialisms are treated equally, with the honour of joining the Gorsedd of equal weight across the board. These changes would also help to eradicate the idea that any one colour is more important than another. To support this, the Gorsedd has also been discussing the concept of changing the order of the colours in the Procession, and even looking again at the placing of the different colours in the Circle and on the Pavilion stage.

Additionally, the proposed scheme also stipulates that no one individual can propose or second more than three different people to join the Gorsedd in any one year.

The scheme outlined above will be further discussed at the Gorsedd’s general meeting in the Wrexham and District National Eisteddfod, next August. In the meantime, the Gorsedd is eager to encourage debate on this subject.

Anyone wishing to voice their opinions should do so, in the first instance, by contacting the Gorsedd Recorder, Penri Tanad, or completing the form below.
If the scheme is agreed in Wrexham next year, the Gorsedd hopes to introduce these radical changes at the Vale of Glamorgan National Eisteddfod in 2012, when the Eisteddfod visits the home of Iolo Morganwg himself.

Joining the Gorsedd
You can join the Gorsedd through sitting the Gorsedd Examinations, which are held on the final Saturday of April every year, in convenient centres in both north and south Wales.
Syllabuses are available in Poetry, Music, Language and Prose, and there are also specific syllabuses for harpists and in the field of Cerdd Dant. You must pass two exams in your chosen subject before you can be honoured to the Green Costume by the Archdruid in the Gorsedd Circle, but you may sit both exams on the same day. Then, the following year, you may sit the final exam, which will allow you to be honoured to the Blue Costume.
The syllabus can be downloaded from this page and includes full instructions on all subjects, including the terms and condition, the names of the examiners and the set books. The syllabus is available in Welsh as you must be a Welsh speaker to apply for the Gorsedd.
If you succeed in the examinations, you will receive a certificate designed by the late R.L.Gapper. But you will also receive the honour of becoming a member of an unique organisation which is, nowadays, an integral part of the National Eisteddfod.
For more information, contact the Gorsedd Exampinations Organiser, Dr W. Gwyn Lewis (Gwyn o Arfon), Llys Cerdd, 80 Cae Gwyn, Caernarfon, Gwynedd LL55 1LL.

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